Isaac Hayes & Cyrus Chestnut | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Isaac Hayes & Cyrus Chestnut


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At first glance, this listing looks like a misprint. Isaac Hayes is the doyen of sexy 70s soul-funk spectaculars, with his ever-present shades and growling, insinuating voice; though he doesn't read music, he's given the world Hot Buttered Soul, Black Moses, and of course the theme from Shaft. Cyrus Chestnut is a bookish-looking neoclassical jazz pianist with a degree from the Berklee College of Music; his field training included early-90s stints under rigorously demanding bandleaders like Betty Carter and Wynton Marsalis, both of whom have spoken out against exactly the kind of hedonistic black pop Hayes exemplifies. But they will in fact perform on the same stage at the same time this weekend: the singer will be backed by the pianist's neatly swinging quartet in a program reportedly heavy on love songs and standards. The foundation of this unlikely partnership won't surprise anyone who's at all familiar with black American music: it's the church. At age five Hayes made his first public appearance in a Memphis-area gospel choir; more than 20 years later a seven-year-old Chestnut debuted his keyboard skills for a Baptist congregation in his native Baltimore. The pianist uses earthy textures even on funk-resistant tunes, and effortlessly slips in and out of the rolling deep-gospel riffs he brought to the fore on the 1996 disc Blessed Quietness (Atlantic). These qualities are probably what attracted Hayes to him in the first place, and it should allow this duo to exploit the balance of sacred and secular that animates the best soul music, from Little Richard to R. Kelly. Saturday, April 7, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Kwaku Alston/Thierry Le Goues.

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